The inaugural Scholars in Marine Medicine cohort (from left) Serene Cheng, Parker Matthews and Maya Sheth.


DURHAM, N.C. – Duke University has launched a new undergraduate program offering an interdisciplinary research experience for pre-health majors interested in marine biology or environmental science.

The Scholars in Marine Medicine program will allow students to take part in faculty-mentored research and gain valuable scientific training as they work toward completing a senior honors thesis and receiving Graduation with Distinction honors. Students will also receive funding for travel to conferences, classes and other professional development activities.

Jason Somarelli, the program’s director, says hands-on research is the cornerstone of the new initiative, a partnership between the Duke University School of Medicine, the Duke Cancer Institute, the Duke University Marine Laboratory and the SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Conservation Fund.

“The breadth of experience gained through this program, including background in molecular biology, genetics, marine science, environmental science and career development activities, will provide students with a unique perspective to tackle our world's most urgent environmental and medical issues,” he says. “They leave the lab career-ready, inspired and motivated to take on any challenge.”

Somarelli, who also serves as director of research for the Duke Cancer Institute’s Comparative Oncology Group, explains that the ocean has vast potential to inform on human health.

“It holds tremendous biological and biochemical diversity,” he says. “The evolutionary forces that shaped life in the marine environment can teach us about ways to protect against environmental exposures, how to defend against viruses, and it can give us new treatments for everything from heart attacks to cancer."

Scholars in Marine Medicine will spend at least one semester at the Duke Marine Lab campus in Beaufort, North Carolina, and one or more semesters at the Duke University Medical Center in Durham.

“This is a great opportunity for students,” says Duke Marine Lab director Andy Read. “We’re very excited about this collaboration, which speaks to our great strengths in interdisciplinary research and our ability to provide exceptional undergraduates a unique opportunity to get first-hand experience working in world-class laboratories.”

The inaugural Scholars in Marine Medicine cohort include seniors Serene Cheng and Parker Matthews as well as junior Maya Sheth. They are working with experts from the School of Medicine, the Nicholas School of the Environment and the Duke Cancer Institute on their research projects.

Cheng is using molecular biology techniques to understand how whales and other large-bodied marine mammals adapted to their large sizes and whether they have increases in tumor suppressor genes.

Matthews’ research looks to better understand the adapted resistance of certain populations of the Atlantic killifish to environmental carcinogens and how that may help humans combat exposure to these toxins.

Sheth focuses her research on using tools derived from marine sources, like fluorescent proteins, in cancer research as well as on developing an efficient method of plastic biodegradation.

The biomedical engineering major says she’s excited to be a part of this new endeavor.

“The program is designed to comprehensively prepare us to create real change in the world by supporting us to develop creative, interdisciplinary solutions to environmental and medical challenges,” Sheth says. “It's inspiring to be surrounded by peers and faculty that are so passionate about their research in this innovative and impactful field.”

New scholars will be selected each fall for the upcoming academic year.

Applications for next year’s cohort are open to Duke sophomores and juniors through Friday, October 19.  For more information, visit the Scholars in Marine Medicine page.